What Happened When an Aspiring Doctor Chased a New Dream
How a medical school rejection led to an entirely new career.
When Ryan Anderson got rejected by medical school for a second time, it wasn’t time to persevere and try again. It was time to pursue something radically different.
Becoming a college campus minister is not one of the jobs that college students normally aspire to be when they grow up. They are taught to do something that will make lots of money or change the world. Most of the time, the life expectations we create for ourselves never go exactly as we planned.
Ryan was no different – he was a biology major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with plans to become a doctor. The thought of seminary school had never crossed his mind. It wasn’t until his failure to get into medical school that he considered an entirely new career path.
Though doctors and pastors may seem like tremendously dissimilar professions, Ryan points out an essential part of both jobs, “After giving up on medical school, I tried to see what my appeal was in medicine. It wasn’t the science behind it, but rather the fact that I got to care for people. While doctors care for broken bones and issues with the body, I realized that, through ministry, I could care for people’s souls, hearts, and minds.”
In his later years of college, Ryan realized how important his faith was to him, but still never considered making it into a career. Needing help with a drastic change in his career path, Ryan turned to his Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) campus minister at UT Knoxville. After long conversations and lots of questions, Ryan decided to work at Young Life, a program that helps kids grow in their faith. Through this job, he realized that he most enjoyed the educational component of faith. Knowing he wanted to learn more, Ryan enrolled in Seminary school in St. Louis and soon became a pastor at church for a few years.
And yet, even after finding a job he loved, life’s unpredictability struck again. The 2008 stock market crash led Ryan to lose his job. Searching for new employment, Ryan again turned to his RUF campus minister to help him find a job. After considering offers in Arizona and Kentucky, he was asked to interview for a job at Texas Christian University (TCU), to which he responded, “Is that the school in Waco?” Though very much mistaken, Ryan fell in love with TCU and took the job.
A New Home
Ryan and his wife made the journey from St. Louis to Fort Worth, Texas, where he currently serves as the campus minister at Reformed University Fellowship at TCU. RUF is a nationwide Christian fellowship that creates a community where college students can learn and grow in their faith alongside their peers. RUF.org calls the organization, “More than just a ministry on the university campus, RUF seeks to be a ministry for the university. We strive to serve in this unique stage of a student’s life in the world they live in, exploring together how the Lordship of Christ informs every area of life.”
RUF holds weekly gatherings that include worship songs, sermons, community announcements, and a lot of great people. It is also a community that plans smaller bible study groups, trips, and other events for students to meet people and share their faith. It is a very special community that helps many college students through hard times and allows them to discover their faith and beliefs.
Ryan has been a campus minister at TCU for eight years. He loves his job and believes that his passion is to walk alongside students, care for them, and show them why God matters and is relevant in their lives. His job entails facilitating small group meetings, individually meeting with students, and almost eight hours weekly preparation for sermons.
Though a fulfilling and rewarding occupation, this commitment comes with many challenges. One of the biggest challenges of being a campus minister is the non-committal nature of college students. Ryan says, “As opposed to adults, who have less things vying for their time, it makes it much harder to really be in the life of students. TCU especially seems to have enormous pressure on being busy, which is great in some ways, but really cuts into RUF.”
Another challenge of this profession is taking on the sorrow of students. “Though college students are young, their sorrows are very, very real. Even last week, I had conversations with two young women about sexual assault. It is an occupational hazard in this profession to walk with people and their pain. I am always thinking and praying for these students and it can be hard at some points. But, though I do support them through their pain and hard times, I also get to be there at their joys and excitement, which makes it all worth it.”
Ryan’s advice for students trying to find who they want to be when they grow up is three- fold. “Firstly, I’d say to try a lot of things you might be interested and dip your toe into a lot of different waters. Secondly, don’t buy into the passion myth. That may sound a bit cynical, but I think the idea of this ‘passion unicorn’ that makes your job wonderful and lovely is just a bit unrealistic. It sets up an expectation that you must be passionate and love some profession before you even dive in.
“Lastly, I would say that Millennials and Generation Z are taught to be world changers, but I think that big change happens locally. Though being the creator of Toms or some astounding charity is incredible, not everyone can do that and I think that sets people up for disappointment. There is so much importance in just the simple things, like being a mother! I truly believe that world changing happens in small localized ways, like just loving people.”
Sometimes, the lives we plan out for ourselves do not always go as we intended. But, as Ryan’s story displays, if we embrace the unexpected and have a little faith, unanticipated changes in life can bring more joy and fulfillment than one ever could have imagined.